Leadership & Character

While undertaking the Navy Ethics and Leadership Center’s re-designed Intermediate Leadership Course (formerly the Department Head Leadership Course), we are asked to examine and reflect on a question pertaining to the day’s material.

Today, Day 2, focused on the correlation (if any) between leadership and character.  Ironically, the required reading for the day’s lecture came from a work, ‘Leadership:  The Warrior’s Art’ that I have had in my personal library since graduation of boot camp in January 2004.  For some reason while at a brick & mortar book store in downtown Chicago, this book spoke to me.  My Uncle purchased it for me and here we are now, 13 years later, taking a deep dive into a piece of literature as a Lieutenant (O-3) I randomly selected as a Seaman (E-3).

Briefly, here is how I, Patrick, define both leadership and character:

Leadership:  the intersection of the art and science to captivate, inspire, and motivate others to effectively accomplish a shared cause, task, or objective.

Character:  the aggregate of mental, moral, and ethical traits in which an individual possesses.

A commonality of each is they are both capable of being improved upon through a regiment of education, experience, and reflection.  Can individuals be taught to be exceptional leaders?  In a word:  no.  I firmly believe we are genetically disposed to a certain plateau or limit – we’ll consider this the ceiling.  We each have a ceiling of leadership potential.  Conversely, we each have a floor of leadership potential, too.  Collectively, we can raise the floor of everyone’s talent floor but individuals will peg out at various points due to their respective ceiling.  Case in point – no matter how many basketball shots I undertake at this stage of my life, I will not be an exceptional basketball player.  I accept this reality.  If I wanted, I can still show up to the local YMCA and play a game of pick-up basketball, but the ‘Y’ is not Oracle Arena.

Where does character enter into leadership?

Character is the compass in which guides your choices and actions in leadership

The capacity to lead any organization – scaled from self to a corporation – is guided by their character.  Through their character will determine the course of the rudder of the organization.  Are each mutually exclusively?  Not at all.  One can be of poor character and achieve successful results in a leadership position.  These results; however, are fleeting and short lived.  For example, see Enron.

Conversely, one can be of the highest character but yield ineffective results as a leader.  A common quote:  They’re a great person but…. is all too often cited to describe this person.  Nice, but not effective.

Ideally, we have a leader who is of sound character and produces effective results for their respective people and organization.  A short passage from ‘Extreme Ownership’ {which is a MUST read] to paraphrase:

The Dichotomy of Leadership (1*)

A good leader must be:

  • confident but not cocky;
  • courageous but not foolhardy;
  • competitive but a gracious loser;
  • attentive to details but not obsessed by them;
  • strong but have endurance;
  • a leader and follower;
  • humble not passive;
  • aggressive not overbearing;
  • quiet not silent;
  • calm but not robotic, logical but not devoid of emotions;
  • close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge.

A good leader has nothing to prove, but everything to prove.

1* – ‘Extreme Ownership.’  Willink, Jocko.  Babin, Leif.  Pg. 277 – 278

How can a ‘good’ leader balance and find their way along this dichotomy of leadership?  Using their compass to find their true north star.


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